Review: PLAY (And Other Plays)

Frances Docx 7 December 2011

PLAY (And Other Plays)

Pembroke Players, Pembroke New Cellars, 7pm until Sat 26th Nov


Frances Docx on the Pembroke Players Freshers’ fascinating, stimulating and disorientating production of three short plays by Beckett – but you may need to read the plot on Wikipedia first…

Pembroke New Cellars is the perfect setting for three of Samuel Beckett’s most unhinged and disorienting plays; the spare black walls and stark wooden platforms which make up all three plays contrast well with the cerebral and dialogue-heavy performances. The three plays which the first years professionally executed were Play, Rough for Theatre II and Not I, and they were, respectively, intriguing, less intriguing and excellently performed.

Play and Other Plays opens with Beckett’s famous three urns, which, granted, is perhaps a rather difficult piece of theatrical property to whip up between lectures. At a cursory glance I thought the choice of wrapping a thick blanket around each actor was a cop-out and looked misleadingly cocoon-like, yet slowly as a chilling performance from Edward Eustace (as M) developed, I began to see a strait-jacket motif emerging which perfectly captured the psychological imprisonment of the three characters.

Play sees the conflict over an affair between a man, his wife and his mistress and is purely dialogue based. The acting was impressive, if a little inconsistent. Eustace’s performance shone at times, his misery and bitterness palpable, yet there were moments when he fell back on monotones without exploiting the emotive potential of his face. Emma Fairhurst, as the wronged wife, gracefully tackled the tongue twisters which Beckett’s script ascribes to her. But as the mistress, Phoebe Power’s shrill delivery was uncomfortably poised between the unhinged quality which her character demanded and a concern that perhaps she couldn’t breathe in her blanket-urn.

The second play, Rough for Theatre II, features a Vladimir and Estragon-like duo debating the life of a potential suicide victim as he stands precariously on a window ledge. This second play was perhaps not as brazenly and visually absurd as the first and third plays so felt a slightly incongruous choice. However, it did add some light humour through its bureaucratic banter: “what kind of Chinese is this!”

However, despite my perhaps unfair demands for perfectionism, what was most astounding was the sheer professional execution of these challenging plays; particularly Amritha John’s 20-minute tumbling monologue as Mouth in Not I. It is demanding enough to hold a stage alone for twenty minutes, but to hold a stage alone with only the use of your mouth is damn impressive. Furthermore, I was anxious to see how set designer Michael Grechishkin would tackle Beckett’s demands of a woman’s mouth 8ft above the stage in Not I – and I was not disappointed. Without ruining the magic by revealing too much, Grechishkin and Kaner (producer) achieved exactly the right effect – all with a bit of duct tape.

Upon leaving the Cellars I overheard someone talking about the ‘enjoyableness’, or otherwise, of the plays: these three plays are not enjoyable, but they are fascinating, stimulating and disorienting, and the Pembroke performance certainly hit the absurdist mark which Beckett strove for.

(NB: Before going I would suggest a quick Wikipedia scan of the basic plots as Beckett is notoriously (and wonderfully) twisted in his logic and fragmented in his dialogue!)

Frances Docx